l’immigration en France

I’m still talking about immigration with my students this week (predominantly students coming from immigrant families, since, you know, we’re in the Parisian suburbs and 40% of France’s immigrants live in the Paris metropolitan area) and plan to show them this article to add a bit of meat to their discussion (which hasn’t been falling too flat, but nevertheless).

Sarkozy, in Rousing Talk, Takes Conservative Stands, from the NY Times

la police

the side of my apartment building at Stalingrad, 18ème, 7 février 2011

I don’t know what to say about all of this.  I’m not sure what the percentage is today (it can only have gone up, I’m sure), but in 2008, 19% of France’s population was foreign-born immigrants with French-born children.  Their immigrants come from everywhere, but primarily from:  Italy, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Greece, Turkey, China, Romania, Mali, Cameroon, the US, and, of course, North Africa.  In addition to those countries, I’ve had students whose parents come from Argentina, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Comoros Islands, Mauritius, Haiti, India, and other countries that I’m simply forgetting because they’re such a diverse group of kids.  The Maghreb people represent 8-10% of the immigrant population in France, which seems like a rather low estimate to me, but voilà.  France is also the European country with the largest number of black inhabitants.

This all makes me love France so much.  My students tell me the government gives loads of financial and social aid to immigrants, helping them find places to live, giving them money to start new lives, and allowing their families to join them here in France.  And of course there’s the health care.  It’s just amazing.  France is an amazing country.

I do have students who tell me they are “100% French,” and last week I had two boys tell me there were “too many” immigrants in France.  Okay, these feelings exist.  And here is Sarkozy, saying scary things again.

But you should hear my students talk about immigration.  One of the questions I posed to each student (since it is impossible to make every student participate in general discussion and you must ask each one a direct question) was, “if you left France and immigrated to a new country, where would you go, and why do you find that county attractive?”  Some of them said they’d go to England or the US for a few years for work, some of them said a beautiful island, some of them said Spain for the beach and the lower cost of living, but so, so many of them said they wanted to stay in France.  “Eet eez good here!”  It’s so good here.

Even if there are some negative feelings, and even if things may change in the future, as of right now, as an American, I can’t quite believe what goes on here in France.  The government helping immigrants to this degree.  Another question I asked them was, “what about refugees?  Do you think refugees should be limited?  Should they always be welcome?”  One girl said, “of course!” and the response was overwhelmingly pro-refugee.  Many of them do have concerns about immigrants taking advantage of the social aid, which is a huge problem, but they ask that the country simply monitor these social programs more closely to ensure that resources aren’t being wasted or abused.

My students asked me what country I would immigrate to if I left to the US permanently and after a bit of thought, I said I’d probably choose France.  Or Switzerland (to which they responded, “ohh mais non, c’est nul la Suisse!”  As if…).

femmes de montreux

Montreux, mai 2008